Health Care

Flushed contact lenses big source of microplastic pollution

Flushed contact lenses big source of microplastic pollution”

Contact lenses are instead commonly manufactured with a combination of silicones, poly (methylmethacrylate), and fluoropolymers to develop a softer material that enables oxygen to pass through the lens to the eye.

The research began when environmental engineer Rolf Halden of Arizona State University - a contact lens wearer - wondered if anyone had conducted any research into the disposal of contact lenses.

The team from Arizona State University estimated that anywhere from six to ten metric tons of plastic lenses ended up in wastewater in the US alone each year.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University performed a deep investigation of how contact lenses break down, and ran surveys to determine how contact lens wearers are disposing of their lenses. "This leads to smaller plastic particles which would ultimately lead to the formation of microplastics".

Contact wearers should throw their lenses in the trash or recycle them, the researchers advise.

Trying to follow a lens' journey from the sink to the sea proved to be incredibly tricky given that they are transparent in the water when they arrive to the waste treatment plant.

The results of the research were presented at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Unlike glasses, contact lenses are intended for very short usage periods - most are meant to last a single day.

The researchers also tested what happened to contacts in liquids of varying densities, finding that they always sink to the bottom.

If you're one of the millions of people in the United Kingdom who wear contact lenses, you may have never given a second thought about what you do when you finish wearing them.

They found that, even after extended periods of time, the lenses remained intact.

To make matters worse, because contact lenses are typically denser than water, they can sink into aquatic zones and be eaten by marine life thriving down there, which can potentially poison them. These animals are part of a long food chain. Past studies have shown how easy it is for plastics to make their way from the oceans to our dinner tables inside of fish which consume plastics accidentally. "The minimum object size for recycling in 40mm, which is why some items like plastic straws and small soy sauce bottles that come in sushi packs can not be recycled". Therefore, it is unclear how wastewater treatment impacts contacts. Contact lenses could thus lead to unwanted exposures to plastic contaminants and the pollutants that stick to their surfaces. "We found that there were noticeable changes in the bonds of the contact lenses after long-term treatment with the plant's microbes", says Kelkar.

By calling attention to this first-of-its-kind research, the team hopes that industry will take note and at minimum, provide a label on the packaging describing how to properly dispose of contact lenses, which is by placing them with other solid waste. Thankfully, unlike most types of environmental pollutions, this one has an incredibly simple solution: chuck contact lenses in the bin, don't flush them down the drain.

Tiny fish and plankton can mistake microplastics for food.

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